Monday, January 7, 2008

Bedouin Jewelry

Within the first month after my arrival in Arabia, Adnan’s mom (Tata) and his sister Baheeja planned several get-togethers to introduce me (and I like to think - to show me off!) to various other women.

One night there was a small gathering for cousins. I wore a beautiful hot pink and orange traditional dress that Baheeja (Adnan's sister) gave me. Adnan’s mom had given me some gold jewelry so I wore that too – a necklace, 2 bracelets, and a ring. The women here in Arabia hug and kiss each others’ cheeks at least three times, sometimes up to eight or even ten times, when greeting or saying goodbye. So right off the bat, you are hugging and kissing someone you have never met before. I kinda like it! We spent the entire evening (5 whole hours) sitting on the floor in Tata’s dining room. Boy, did my hips and legs hurt the next day! The whole time I pretty much sat there smiling and listening to the other women talking in Arabic. I could understand few words here and there, but the majority of the conversation went right over my head. Baheeja would try to interpret a bit, trying to include me.

For dinner, each woman was served her own whole small delicious roasted chicken, with pita bread, hummus, and salad. If that weren't enough, there was enough pizza for each woman to have her own pizza too if she wished. There was WAY too much food. We ate on the floor in the middle of the room and then when we were done with the meal, we moved back to the cushions along the wall, which was a little bit more comfortable. I had to keep switching positions because I am just not that used to sitting on the floor anymore. I tried crossing my legs, stretching them out straight, one leg straight and the other bent, knees up and bent with my hands clasped in front of them - I tried everything to be more comfortable. I just don't know how they can sit on the floor here as much as they do. They have so many living rooms, yet they prefer sitting on the floor!

When Adnan’s cousin Amul got up to leave, I rose up also to bid her goodbye. Amul is a very elegant and refined woman of about 60 with jet black hair swept up in a bun. She was wearing a hot pink traditional dress accessorized by enormous silver Bedouin jewelry. Amul does not speak much English at all, but she had asked a few questions of me through Baheeja during the evening. I was starting to tell her how much I liked what she was wearing when suddenly she reached behind her neck to undo the clasp of the amazing solid silver necklace she was wearing and promptly hung it around my neck. This necklace must weigh several pounds. It is handmade by Bedouins, the gypsies of Arabia who wander the desert. The necklace has unbelievable detail and intricate designs, swirls, chains, loops, bells, and a gigantic dark brown stone – I don’t know what it is. Amul next removed her large hammered silver hoop earrings with dangles and bestowed them to me as well. Of course, I was overwhelmed and I thanked her and hugged and kissed her.

As we edged closer to the door, Amul slid off the two silver bracelets from her wrists and placed them in my hand. One of the bracelets is plain silver and the other one has stones in turquoise, coral and a white stone. It looks Southwestern or American Indian to me. After more hugging and thanks yous, she was out the door. But 30 seconds later the doorbell rang and it was Amul, handing over the two silver rings that had been adorning her fingers. Both rings have over sized red stones, maybe garnets. One ring has small silver bells dangling around the edges and the other is raised with amazing intricate detail around the whole base.

By this point, I was almost in shock. Amul had just taken off every piece of stunning jewelry she had worn that night and just took it all off and gave it all to me. Adnan’s sister Baheeja explained that Amul is very generous and her gesture means that she liked, she REALLY liked me! I was touched and humbled by her actions.

Another evening Tata invited over the other women who live in our building to introduce me to everyone. This time we sat in her main living room - on couches! - and we just had finger foods and sweets. I was just happy not to have to spend another five hour evening sitting on the floor! A couple of the younger ladies were quite stylish and trendy. One of the women had eight kids. She has a whole floor of our building just for her family. Another woman was older, maybe Tata's age, and I think she lived with one of her children and her family. Two of the others were thirty-something and had four kids each. I was able to participate in the conversation a bit more this time since a couple of them spoke pretty good English.

On yet another occasion, Baheeja held a soiree at her home and invited over some family members and some close friends of hers. The ladies all gathered in one of her large formal living rooms at the base of the staircase to the upstairs living quarters, and the men were in another living room off the foyer of her home. This way, the women can take off their coverings because no men would see them. It was funny because a few times during the evening, a male would have to go upstairs for something, and all the women had to duck and hide behind something when this would happen. This evening was much more casual and relaxed, and we women sat on the floor and I instructed them all in making earrings which they each took home with them. The women loved it. Many Saudi women are very crafty and artistic - it is encouraged. Also that night, I tried on this gold Bedouin jewelry that some brides there wear - Baheeja's daughter Bayyan wore it for her wedding. It consists of small gold coins and chains that covers the face, head, hands, and chest - almost like armor! It is quite heavy and uncomfortable - even Bayyan told me she wasn't comfortable the night she wore it - but it is traditional, so they wear it.

All the women I have met so far have been very cordial. And I really appreciate how Tata has gone out of her way to make me feel like I belong and that she is proud to have me in the family. So have Adnan's siblings and their spouses as well. For so many years I used to say how lucky I was that I had no in-law problems (unlike some of my friends) because mine were clear over on the other side of the world! Now, I am living in very close proximity to Adnan's family, and so far, it has been a pleasure. As they say over here: Alhamdulil-La! (Thanks be to God!)


  1. Susie,
    the pictures of the jewels you received as gifts are truly amazing. I wonder how many hours it takes to actually make this art work. I am so glad you are being treated so well. Keep up your blog, because I really enjoy reading it.
    Love, Sabine

  2. This is not unusual; if you tell someone how much you like something of theirs, they feel like they should give it to you.

  3. What stunning jewelry! I took a look at the big brown stone, and I think that it may be sea glass:

  4. Thanks, CozySister -
    I had no idea what that big brown stone was.

  5. Dear Susie..

    I love your blog..reading your experience living in Saudia..i hv been to Mecca to perform Umrah June this year..just a 2 weeks trip and i really would like to know the life style of the Arabs..

    Thanks to you for your great story..keep on writing..